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Blind Sheikh Prosecutor Andrew McCarthy’s Thoughts On The Boston Marathon Attack

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HH: In the second hour of my broadcast on this grim day, two are known to be dead in Boston thus far from the series of explosions that racked the city earlier today, one of them an eight year old boy. Eight additional individuals are in critical condition, fourteen in serious condition at area hospitals. Eight of those are children. Joining me now on the line, Andrew McCarthy, veteran prosecutor of terrorists, he was of course the lead prosecutor in the Blind Sheikh case which led to the conviction that put the Blind Sheikh and his co-conspirators in jail for life, the first attack on the World Trade Center. Andy McCarthy, welcome. I read your piece over at National Review. Point number one, it’s a mistake to get too far out of the initial reports. Point number two, the government doesn’t really tell us all that they know in a hurry. What else are you thinking this hour?

AM: Well, Hugh, I’ve heard some speculation on the radio and on television about judging by the size of these devices, the conclusion drawn that this may be either a home grown cell or a fairly amateurish attack. First of all, I don’t know why anyone would say amateurish under the circumstances we’re now dealing with. I mean, you’ve now given the up to date toll of the carnage, which evidently is only going to get worse. So this was obviously a very successful attack. From everything I know that I’ve heard, it certainly seems like something that required some degree of sophistication to pull off. For example, the sites where these explosives went off were pretty heavily surveilled because of their proximity to the finish line for the Boston Marathon, which is an area that gets unusually heavy security on this particular day. So those devices, more than likely, were planted hours before the event, and hours before that security was stepped up, and it was obviously done by somebody who had the, or some group that had the ability to set them off in a way that made them go off in a fairly simultaneous fashion. And I guess you don’t, maybe I’m violating my own rule here about not trying to get too far ahead, but one of the things I would be thinking of is the fact that jihadist groups, and I think terrorist groups in general, even if they’re not jihadist groups, tend to learn from the most important developments, from their perspective, that are going on in the world at any one time. And one thing, I think, is extremely important to these guys, is the fact that in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, they were able to wage successful terrorist campaigns with small improvised explosive devices that are able to be camouflaged in areas that are sometimes heavily congested areas, that are, you know, devices that are designed to sort of fit in, in a camouflaged way, with the scenery. And think about how difficult it had to be for law enforcement today. This is, the Boston Marathon’s a much more difficult thing than say a baseball game or maybe the Super Bowl in the sense that you just couldn’t possibly go through the belongings and tote bags and athletic equipment of every single person on the scene along a route like that. It’s just, you know, from the point of view of security personnel, it’s kind of their worst nightmare.

HH: Andrew McCarthy, I was telling people before the break, I’ve done a dozen plus marathons, and I was at greeting a runner on one on Super Bowl Sunday, and I took along a backpack, and a thing of water, and I put it down between my feet, and people jostle, and you just leave it there and you walk away for five minutes, and you come back because you look for a better…there are a thousand packages at a marathon, really, literally, a thousand packages.

AM: That’s exactly right, Hugh. Exactly right.

HH: So I also, late report from the New York Times says a device was found in Newton, which is six miles up the street, and one is found at a square about a mile after the race, which gives us at least four devices now, not counting the Kennedy Library one.

AM: Right.

HH: That’s a pretty great degree of sophistication here, getting back to sort of the London subway bombing and a couple of other incidents here. Is it consistent with any domestic operation that you’ve known, because our domestic people tend to be even stupider than the terrorists in they give themselves away.

AM: Well, you know, you wouldn’t want to out of hand say it’s beyond the sophistication of any group, given the paltry state of our information at the moment.

HH: Okay.

AM: But I do agree that if you were, you know, if you were sitting in a room with a bunch of investigators, and you were trying to prioritize what your investigative steps would be, and who your suspects would be, assuming that you know nothing, including that there was no person of interest, we get some reports that there is a “person of interest” who may be in one of the hospitals. But that aside, if you know nothing, I think you would want to look, given the dots that you’ve just connected, at more sophisticated groups.

HH: Now Andrew McCarthy, when you investigated the World Trade Center bombing, I know they parked a car in the bottom of the World Trade Center. How long after that bomb went off were your professionals able to figure out the bomb maker’s address?

AM: I would say we had it inside of a week. And, but you know, again, Hugh, as you know, because you and I have discussed Willful Blindness, which is the memoir that I wrote about the investigation, part of the explanation for that is that we actually had an informant inside the cell, and let him, well, basically kicked him out of the investigation seven months before the attack. So it wasn’t like a situation where you had to completely create the wheel once you realized that there was a terrorist bombing. We did have a sort of well of information with respect to that attack. And whether this is a similar situation or not, it’s just way, way too early to tell about that.

HH: Now here’s something that worries me, Andrew McCarthy. Whenever I hear about an FBI-monitored terrorist group, that they break up and they say there was never any threat to the public, and you just mentioned the seven month guy that you tossed out, I can’t remember his name right now, that the…

AM: Yeah, Emad Salem.

HH: Yeah, at this point, does everyone in Boston P.D. and the senior field officer in the Bureau start looking back at everything they thought they had under control and begin there, to say did we let something slip through? Or is there a natural desire not to look at that which might be the most incriminating of your own incompetence?

AM: Well, there are two processes that go on, and you hope that they meet in the middle. One is that the people on the joint terrorism task forces who had access to all of the top secret information are doing exactly what you are describing, that they’re going back over anything they may have discounted, if they’ve identified any people of interest, they’re scrubbing whatever they know about them, including attempts to get phone records and whatever financial records might be available and the like. And then the other thing is the cops on the beat who really don’t have access to terrorism information or classified information, the fact of lies is that the police on the beat are, and the people that they have access to, are a force multiplier on counterterrorism. There are really, if you think about it, very, very few federal counterterrorism agents. We hear a lot about them, but think about it. There’s only about 12,000 FBI agents in the country, and they don’t all work terrorism. Most of the information that we get that ends up being critical comes from either American citizens who just see something and report it, or the local police who are the closest to the street, and who tend to be shrewd observers of their beats, and when they see something that’s unusual, report it up the chain.

HH: Andrew McCarthy, in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing, the first one, where did the bad guys go? What did they do immediately after they hit the World Trade Center?

AM: Well, you know, a couple of them fled, and one of them took a very long time. Ramzi Yousef, who was probably the most important of the conspirators, it took a long time to get him back. He actually plotted other things while he was away. We had a guy named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was one of the most important participants in the bombing. We managed to capture him, because we had a cooperative relationship with the Mubarak regime in Egypt, which of course we no longer have. And then you had some people here who thought they were insulated, like the Blind Sheikh and other people around him who were not hands-on terrorists, but were involved in the enterprise. And then you had a couple of numbskulls like Mohammad Salameh, who wanted to get out of Dodge, but decided he needed to get the money back from the deposit…

HH: The rental…

AM: …that he put down on the van.

HH: Yeah, I remember. Okay, last quick question, Andy, and I’ll keep looking over at on all this. As cities go, is Boston a hotbed of jihadi threats as far as you know, or is it just another normal American city?

AM: Well, it’s a normal American city, but it’s also got a lot of very inviting targets. You know, if you think about it, the Boston Marathon is a very inviting target for terrorists. I hate to say something like that out loud, and I wouldn’t say it if something like this hadn’t happened. But you know, you do have some hubs of Islamist activity in Boston, and you have a lot of inviting targets. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those two things are connected, but they would be something that someone would want to look into.

HH: Absolutely. Andrew McCarthy, we’ll keep reading over at The Corner on Thanks for joining me.

End of interview.


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